First Puppy Love

Gretchel- Our first puppy

Many years ago, my family moved from Southern California to Atlanta, Georgia. It didn't take long before Charlie, a German shepherd, spent more time at our house than hers. I cared for children after school, and when David arrived home, he walked across the street with Charlie following. Curious why Charlie's ear bent at the half way point, I had asked. "What happened to Charlie's right ear?"

David lowered his head. "When I was a baby, Mom said I pulled on her ear and broke the cartilage."

Murphy fell in love with Charlie and when the neighbors moved away we kept her. Charlie attached herself to Murphy as he did yard chores. At age ten, she had cancer and we had to let her go. Murphy's despair was painful to watch.

The children lamented, "Dad needs another dog." We decided while he traveled for work, a new puppy would be a wonderful birthday surprise.

My six-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son were elated. We spent s few days scouring shelters, and breeders. I believed Murphy needed a dog that didn't remind him of Charlie. After reading an ad for White German shepherd pups, we headed there.

With the puppies' parents in the backyard, I learned about their easy- going personalities. My children had wandered over to the crates and called to me. "Mom, this one. This one."
One eight-week-old shepherd pup with a bent ear stared at us. She was adorable, and we didn't hesitate to choose her. This pup had so many fleas, she could have been part Dalmatian. She couldn't be bathed with flea soap at her young age, and I hoped water would wash them away.

Driving home, we played with names. We were new to the south, and I came up with a perfect southern name. "This pup was born in May, and she is a SHE." I asked my children, "What do you think about naming her Shelia May?"

The laughter started first, and then moans and groans came louder. "No way, Mom. That's awful." The children decided Dad needed to name her.

We had two days before Dad arrived home. I pulled out a porta crib from the attic and wound a sheet through the slants. The puppy took her paws and shoved them down and squished her tiny body through the small openings.

If she was left alone for any time, she'd do all her business on the carpet. I slept downstairs in our finished basement to keep her company and wondered if I had made a huge mistake. My kids were independent, and now I had a new baby.

The afternoon Murphy arrived home, the children made him sit upstairs on the couch and close his eyes. He asked all kinds of questions.

Their excitement spilled out. "We have a birthday present for you."

I carried the pup upstairs and plopped her on Murphy's lap. The second she sat on his lap, a scratchy, wet tongue slid across his cheek and nose. His eyes popped open, and to say the least, he was surprised.

Now it was time to name her. My sweet children had a great laugh with my choice of name.

Murphy stared at me and chuckled. When he caught his breath, he started suggesting German names. Gretel or Gretchen. Our young daughter mixed the two names, and it was so cute we named our pup, Gretchel.

Over time, Gretchel became the children's dog. Murphy had built a fort in the backyard and the neighbor boys played there. Gretchel climbed the wooden ladder to be in the middle of all the fun.

Our daughter, who wanted to ride horses, trained Gretchel to jump over bushes, and to follow her many other commands.

As we walked around the neighborhood, Gretchel would fill her mouth with small rocks one at a time. She'd tilt her head sideways to adjust the rocks. When she had no room for one more rock, she'd spit them on the street and rearrange them one at a time. And sure enough, she'd get one more in her mouth.

She became a water dog as we water-skied every weekend. At first, she was small enough to sleep under the dashboard. As she grew, she'd leap into the lake with the children and could climb the ladder to get into the boat. She enjoyed camping with us and would stand guard the bathroom, waiting for her best friends to reappear.

Gretchel was our first chosen puppy. When she died at eleven-years-old, she left a huge hole in our hearts. We didn't wait too long before we filled our gap and chose our first Australian Shepherd.
And that will be another story!

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Our Jake

Years ago, my husband, Murphy, and I enjoyed an unusual, heavy snow storm during the middle of January in Greenville, South Carolina.  Our six-month-old, red-haired, Australian shepherd, Sydney, raced around, his little legs sinking into the fluffy, white stuff.

Murphy had pulled a plastic, red sled to our hilly street. Sydney refused to sit on my lap. Instead, he herded the sled, yipping, as I slid down the mounds.

Ready to go again, a Black lab pup raced from the woods and plopped himself on my lap. His brown eyes stared into mine.  Startled and confused, I glanced around, looking for his owners.

Syd woofed. “Get lost. These are my people.”

The Lab ignored Sydney. I put one arm around the Lab’s chest and down we went. His ears lifted in the wind as we raced down the slope. After a few minutes, Sydney played with the newcomer. We romped until my fingers and toes froze.

“Time to go home, little guy,” He cocked his head. “You’ve got to be hungry and cold.” He sat, staring, his tail whipping the snow. I turned to Murphy. “He has to be a neighbor’s dog!”  After a few steps, I twisted around. “Oh, dear. He’s following.”

In the garage, I noticed his thin body. “He’s mustn’t be a neighbor’s dog. I wonder how long he’s been loose?”                 

Murphy ran his hands over body. “Look. He’s been hurt. And he never showed any signs of being injured. I’ll dry him, while you grab some blankets.”

In the garage, he ate small amounts of boiled rice with chicken broth and small chunks of chicken over a period of time. Murphy cleaned his wounds. We made a cozy place for him to sleep and named him, Jake.

Since our city had no snow equipment, we waited three days for the snow to melt before Jake could get medical attention. I had left messages with the local vets, animal shelters, and the newspaper, giving them our phone number. Jake’s low-key personality differed from our active, noisy Aussie. They became best friends, never leaving each other’s side.

At the Veterinarian’s office, Dr. Hill, believed Jake had been attacked by a pack of dogs and guessed his age of around seven-months from his size and weight of forty-five pounds. We made-up a birthday, gave him a red collar with tags, and he became our first rescue dog.  Jake taught us about patience, resilience, and determination which we would refer to later as we rescued other dogs.

The following week Jake returned for another appointment. One wound hadn’t healed and needed a stint. He had gained fifteen pounds! Every visit after that he’d gained weight. Dr. Hill laughed, saying, “He’ll plateau sometime!”

Jake settled in, and his real personality emerged. Since he had wandered into our neighborhood, we should have known he was a nomad.

One afternoon, the two dogs played outside. I watched from the front porch. Since we lived in the woods, I had made sure the dogs knew where we lived. They’d run up and down our long driveway. I’d call their names and they’d dash back.

But one time, I got no response.

I walked up the drive, thinking they had been distracted by a scent and needed a little prodding to return. But they were nowhere in sight. My heart fluttered. My stomach ached. I paced and grew hoarse calling. I entered the woods at the end of the cul-de-sac. Sydney had never been farther than the neighbor’s front yard across the street.

Thirty long, minutes later, the longest minutes of my lifetime, I saw a bedraggled, red-haired puppy limping from the woods.

Crying, I ran toward him and lifted my muddy fella into my arms. He burrowed his face into my shoulder.  I cried in his ear. “Oh, Sydney. Where’s Jakey?” His worried, golden-eyes stared into mine.

After a bath, I called the neighbors, leaving messages for those who weren’t home. Then I drove with Sydney, down a street behind our woods and up the first driveway I spotted. A woman gardening glanced at me. I stuck my head out the window. “Any chance you’ve seen a small, Black lab? We live right behind this area.”

She pushed her straw hat up and smiled. “Matter of fact, I have one on my back porch. Showed up a few minutes ago. He seems mighty friendly. Go on back and see if he’s yours.”

A head poked out between the wooden railings. It was a Black lab with a red collar. “Oh, Jakey. It’s you.” He pulled his head out and raced down the stairs.  I opened the car door, and he leaped in. Sydney barked and nosed him.

I thanked the neighbor and explained how Jake had found us three weeks earlier. I gave her my phone number, just in case he ever appeared in her yard, again.

After that scary incident, Murphy decided with eight acres of land, an electric fence might be the answer. We took one day, draping the wire around our property and sticking white flags in the ground. The flags marked the boundary, and as they approached closer, a chirping signal warned them to back-off.

Sydney learned after one crossing of the line and being zapped. But Jake took days and many zaps to be deterred. He never went any farther than the cul-de-sac and played with the other neighborhood dogs, and always came home for dinner.

He whined and barked, hating to cross the line. I’d pull him across, letting him get zapped, and telling him, “NO.  You must stay here!” He learned, but never one-hundred-percent!

While Murphy and I were at work or on an outing, Jake stayed in our yard, and got bored. Being very much a mischievous puppy, he uprooted entire azalea plants, leaving gaping holes in the ground.  He chewed the branches off the trees as high as his body could reach. One tree trunk had a hole as if it had been devoured by a beaver. The tree survived, but was deformed. Jake ate the electrical wires to the garage door opener, the boat trailer, and the tongues from Murphy’s yard shoes. Jake couldn’t be trusted in the house, alone, or our furniture and rugs would have been devoured.

During a dog class, the trainer shared ideas that would not harm the dog, but deter them from trouble.  Murphy blew up colored balloons and popped them. I screamed. Once the dogs seemed afraid of the balloons, we taped them inside our azaleas, and on the electrical wires, and on Murphy’s work bench.

The neighbors laughed when they saw our colorful yard. But as the air dissipated, Jake would rip off each balloon and eat it. We’d find balloon poop on the grass and decided balloons could be dangerous.

Our daughter’s wedding invitations and decorations arrived one afternoon, and Jake’s curiosity destroyed the box. When our son arrived home, he spent hours cleaning-up purple confetti from the shredded napkins, and invitations.

Education is a wonderful tool. We learned later, Jake suffered from separation anxiety. If we had crated him, we could have prevented these problems.

As you bring home a rescued dog, you have no idea about their past. Jake watched our interaction with Sydney, and over time, he longed for affection. His tail wagged all the time. By age two, he weighed ninety-two pounds, and trusted that we’d never abandon him. He lived to be thirteen-and-a-half.

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A Stranger In the House

A Stranger in the House

             The e-mail was brief–“This male dog needs to be rescued.” The photo of a stunning, tri-colored Australian shepherd with one pastel, Carolina-sky, blue eye and other dark amber filled my screen. The markings on his face looked as if they had been hand-painted. Word had spread through our Aussie connections that my husband and I were interested in adopting a needy dog.

Through the computer screen, the Aussie’s eyes connected to mine. I took a deep breath, and requested information.  

Two days later, we arrived at the owners’ home. They caught the dog and dumped him on their front yard. He shuddered being touched, but Murphy wrapped his arms around him.

The owner pleaded, “You can have him for free!”

Agreeing he needed help, Murphy set him on my lap. On the way home, he smiled. “What do you think about naming him, Mulligan? He needs a ‘Do Over.’”

I grinned. “Perfect!”

We walked Mulligan through the house to our large bathtub. Murphy and I stripped down to our underwear and climbed in with our frightened dog. This had to be a first for Mulligan; being held by a man and being bathed.

During his bath, I discovered he had no stub. Some Aussies are born without a tail, or the breeder did a terrible job of docking. But, it didn’t matter. He’d just never have a wiggle.

Soon his thick black fur shone like patent leather and his white shimmered like new fallen snow. He was beautiful. His soulful eyes reached deep into my heart. Standing patiently, he panted, and allowed us to rub him dry.

Later, I read about anxiety in dogs and learned panting, yawning, and not eating a treat indicated being overly fearful. Those behavioral signs would help me understand his stress levels.

Four days later, Mulligan had his first appointment with Dr. Hill. “I know why his original owners neglected him so young. One testicle hasn’t dropped. They could never have shown him in ‘Best of Show,’ as beautiful as he is, he wasn’t worth keeping.”

Mulligan was like a child who had been held hostage in a dark closet, with no sensual or intellectual stimulation. I pulled out my Aussie books. I had to change him from being a stranger to someone I understood. I needed to crawl into his fur, look through his eyes, and feel his quandary. Every day was an experiment.

At our first puppy training class, I wanted Mulligan to connect with Murphy. I passed the leash to him. Mulligan looked at Murphy and then to me. His eyes said, “What are you doing to me?”

The trainer walked over to Murphy. “He’s too far away from you. Jerk him. Make him walk closer.”

Murphy halted. “This is a rescued dog and has had nothing but abuse. I’m not jerking him.”

Surprised by what he said, the trainer’s eyes widened. “So, you’re going to let this dog have control over you?”

Murphy fumed. “This dog has been abused. Jerking him will not get him to trust me.”

After two weeks, Murphy confided in me. “Sheri, Mulligan’s probably always going to be your dog. And, I’m okay with that. But, I’ve been thinking… I’m going to need another puppy.”

My heart sunk.  Another puppy! I collapsed on a chair. “I’m digesting what you said.”

Murphy found a kennel with Aussie puppies two hours away in Georgia. Mulligan played with three older dogs in a fenced yard while we chose the new puppy.  One little guy, they called Cowboy, came out of his pack and waved his paw as if he was saying, “Howdy. Pick me. Pick me.”

He was black and white with a pink butterfly nose and no copper markings. I drove home while Murphy snuggled with his new playmate. That night, as soon as we settled into the den, Murphy sat on the den floor, playing tug with Slater.

Silently, Mulligan left his safe place under our dining room table. He stood in the doorway to the kitchen, spying on Murphy and Slater interacting. Then Mulligan slinked through the kitchen, sloth-like, and into the den.  His eyes never shifted from Murphy. I held my breath. My hands covered my racing heart.

Mulligan sauntered right up to Murphy, plopped his bottom on the floor, inches from Murphy’s torso, facing him.  Mulligan’s eyes focused on Slater, and then back to Murphy. His head tilted with each of their playful movements. After a few seconds, Mulligan leaned over Murphy and licked his forehead, ears and cheek.

Murphy’s eyes filled with emotion and tears dripped down our faces.

This had to have been a present from above. An episode Murphy nor I could ever have imagined.  Murphy had broken through Mulligan’s fear with Slater’s help.

Mulligan and Slater
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